For most families, summer is now in full swing. Vacations have been planned, child care has been juggled, and sunburns have started popping up in the odd places that we miss as we chase after our kids with sunscreen. As parents we tend to spend a lot of time and energy focused on the minutia of coordinating and crafting experiences for our children. But no matter how much time or intentionality we put into our summers, it can still sometimes feel like we are missing the mark. Every parent, every child, every family, and every year looks different when it comes summer, so when we feel like we are falling short in the summer months it can be helpful to take a step back and understand what we are really feeling and what we can do with those feelings.
What are your expectations?
If you find that your summer isn’t quite measuring up to what you hoped, consider evaluating the standard you are trying to measure up to. Your goals for the summer should ultimately be a reflection of the larger goals you have as a parent and as a family. Consider what those values are and how your summer goals are fitting in with those values. A spontaneous family camping trip may be a perfect goal for a family that values adventure and new experiences, while planting and tending a garden may be a perfect project for a family that values the outdoors and teamwork. There is nothing inherently better or worse about a camping trip or planting a garden, and there are certainly families that can and do enjoy both. However, filtering your plans and decisions for the summer through your values can help you prioritize what is most important for your family and keep both summer burnout and boredom at bay.
What content are you consuming?
Another helpful angle to consider whenever you start to feel the weight of expectations for your summer is to think about what you are consuming. The imaginary zoo you create with your three-year-old or the moments when your newborn is asleep on your chest may be the most important and valuable parts of your day, but that can be hard to believe as you read an article titled “Top Ten Reasons to Get Out of the House with Your Preschoolers.” There is a lot of value to interacting with a lot of different content created from different perspectives, but there is a line between learning/admiring and letting comparison be the thief of your joy. When you consume media and social media, try to be mindful of the values, gifts, and perspectives of others. It is possible that your feeling of “falling short” may be the result of comparing yourself with someone whose values, gifts, and priorities are different than your own.
You are not alone.
The reality of being a human and parent is that we do and will fall short, sometimes daily. But it is important to not only understand where your feelings of falling short are coming from, but to also take the appropriate action. Treat yourself with compassion whenever you find yourself feeling like you missed the mark. Resist any temptation to judge or criticize yourself. Instead, gently ask yourself if and where you might need to press into some growth. I sing a song to my preschooler with the words:
“We all make mistakes as we’re learning, it’s okay to make mistakes as you’re learning – just try to learn from them.”
It’s not easy to hit the bull’s eye on parenting. Too often we are too much of one thing and too little of another. Step back and take a look at your expectations and your efforts and give yourself the freedom to adjust them as needed.
In the joy and the chaos,
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